Nightwing 17

Alternating Currents: Nightwing 17, Drew and ScottToday, Drew and Scott are discussing Nightwing 17, originally released February 20th 2013.

Drew: Our discussions of Nightwing often find us exploring Dick’s identity. As a former-sidekick turned full-fledged superhero turned replacement-for-hero-he-sidekicked-for turned his own superhero again, it’s understandable that he might have some identity issues to work out, but what is identity in the first place? Is it fixed or dynamic? Does it stem from the person in question, or is it a series of expectations held in the world around them? In Nightwing 17, Kyle Higgins takes up these questions, yielding some rather unexpected results.

The issue opens with Alfred consoling Dick in the wake of Death of the Family. He offers Dick a sympathetic ear, but Dick assures him that he’s fine. Dick has more or less identical exchanges both in and out of costume with Commissioner Gordon, Christina (the young Acrobat from Haly’s), Lucius Fox, Sonia Branch, and Babs, all while Damian listens from the eaves. Contrary to what he keeps saying, Dick isn’t fine, and looses his cool while facing down some opportunistic thugs hoping to loot the ruins of Amusement Mile. Fortunately, Damian is there to stop Dick from doing anything he would regret, holding an impromptu intervention.

Damian and Dick

It’s a touching scene — demonstrating a deft understanding of both of these characters — but it’s over too soon. Dick and Damian have a fascinating relationship, and the exploration of Dick’s psyche is the emotional center of this issue. Unfortunately, it’s only allotted two pages, which doesn’t quite give it the space it needs to breathe, leading to a conclusion that feels a little pat in light of the 17 pages spent setting it up. I appreciate that each of those 17 pages serves a purpose in the overall narrative — even the looters in that fight scene comes back in the end — but I wish we could spend more time with these characters.

Speaking of the end, those looters do come back, bringing their spoils to “The Dealer,” a villain Dick faced down back in Snyder’s run on Detective Comics (collected in Batman: The Black Mirror, for those who haven’t read it). Specifically, they deliver the Flying Graysons uniform of one of Dick’s parents.

To say that this issue addresses Dick’s identity is an understatement. The main conflict finds him at odds with Robin, an alter ego he created. That’s symbolically loaded enough to carry most comics, but Dick and Damian also have their own history. Working closely with Damian as Robin must remind Dick (and us) of his time as Batman, a comparison that is emphasized further by the return of The Dealer, a villain from that specific time in Dick’s history. Add to that mix a few ex girlfriends and the outfit your parents died in, and you’re sure to bring up some hard memories. Dick insists to Damian that he’s “the one that doesn’t dwell,” but can he really help it when so much of his life returns with so much symbolic significance?

Of course, what really interests me in Damian’s assertion is that it’s an expectation he feels he has to live up to. He doesn’t necessarily want to be the rock, but because people think of him that way, he really has no choice. That’s an interesting take on identity, but one that works to slow any sense of personal growth. It’s a familiar feeling for anyone who can’t help but slip into old habits when they visit their parents, and this series seems poised to confront it head-on going forward. That’s an exciting direction for this series, but I can’t help but wish Higgins had done more with it here. Dick and Damian have such an interesting history, and I would love to feel a little more of the full weight of it here.

Scott, I’m curious if you also wanted more out of that scene, or if my own experience with those two characters is coloring my expectations unduly. If anything, between their pairing and the presence of the Dealer, this issue seems to presume some familiarity with Dick’s time as Batman. Did you find yourself feeling left out at all, or am I reading too much into the significance of those references?

Scott: Don’t overlook the possibility that I feel left out and you’re reading too much into those references. I mean, how could Dick and Damian’s history not inform this interaction? It must. Still, I think the dynamic between those two is apparent enough that this story works even without knowing the specifics of their relationship. Damian obviously looks up to Dick — he wears the guy’s old tights for chrissake! — so it doesn’t take much to understand his motivations in this issue.

I was hoping for more out of their scene together just because of the lengthy buildup. The scene is tipped not only by the cover of the issue, but three more times before Dick and Damian exchange words. I can only look at Damian peering down at Dick from a ledge so many times before I start rolling my eyes and thinking “Ok, I get it, Robin is going to play an important part in this issue.” On top of that, we get to hear Dick’s “I’m fine, I promise” plea six times in the first five scenes. Hasn’t Kyle Higgins heard of the rule of three? You know Dick must not really be doing fine when he doesn’t even notice that some kid has been spying on him for a week.

In case you were still wondering, Dick's doing fine

Or maybe Dick knew Damian was spying, and was just messing with him by having the exact same conversation with everyone he saw. “If you insist on eavesdropping, I’ll at least make it real boring for you.”

Drew, you mentioned that Damian feels like he has to live up to the expectations that Dick created for Robin. As a youngest child, I could totally relate to those feelings (and not just because I was always forced to play the Robin to Drew’s Batman when we were little). Growing up with two very involved, over-achieving brothers, I often found myself pursuing the same activities they had excelled in, unsure if it was out of my own interest or because those were the expectations set for me by my siblings. It’s tricky trying to walk in someone else’s footsteps while carving out your own sense of identity — something that makes you alternately resent and greatly appreciate your forerunners — and it’s interesting to see Damian experiencing the advantages and pitfalls of filling Dick’s shoes, er, lacey boots. As nice as it was to have teachers who loved me just because my brothers had made good impressions on them years before, it came with the pressure of having to try not to let them down.

Nightwing 17 offers an interesting role-reversal for Dick. We’re used to seeing him searching for his own identity, but during his interaction with Damian it becomes clear that he has crafted an identity that is unique, consistant, and worth living up to. Dick’s time as Batman is an important part of his past, but Damian shows him that he really is his own man, and for the first time, Dick looks like he’s doing fine.

Look who's smiling

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

8 comments on “Nightwing 17

  1. I was not impressed by this issue. I can see what Higgins is getting at, but I just don’t think it was executed all that well. I agree with Scott, I think it would have been much stronger to have less time spent on Dick insisting he’s fine and more time interacting with Damian.

    Did you guys read any of the Channel 52 stuff? Rumors of Nightwing in Chicago? I got really excited when I read that, because for a second I forgot comics aren’t real and Dick Grayson is not actually moving to my city.

    • Hey, so this is as good a place as any to talk about the Channel 52 stuff: what is the purpose of it? I assumed it was to drum up interest in these other titles, but it does a piss poor job of doing that. Like, it’s teasing events in Nightwing that straight up haven’t happened yet. I was most aggravated by the bit about Sword of Sorcery that was so oblique, I barely recognized what title it was talking about, and I’m reading the series. If someone was intrigued by the disappearance of this Amy girl, how exactly are they supposed to know where to follow it? JUST START DOING LETTERS COLUMNS ALREADY.

      • I think it’s all just supposed to be a space for jokes about the DCU. DC is relatively humorless (especially compared to Marvel, who’s happy to have someone like Deadpool running around and making everything silly). If they’re meant to serve as promotional things, then yeah, they’re not doing a great job. And actually as joke-delivery machines, they could be better – maybe DC could get some nerdy comedians to write some jokes for them (someone like Kumail Nanjiani or DC Pierson).

  2. Scott, you and I had very different takes on Dick and Damian’s conversation — I thought it was powerful because Dick was effectively talking to his past self, while you thought it was powerful because Damian was effectively talking to his future self (and yes, I understand that these characters are very different, but their shared Robinness is undeniable). I can’t help but think of this as a manifestation of our inherent “older brother” and “younger brother” roles. I always enjoy getting a chance to write with my little brother, but every so often, the significance of that relationship sneaks up on our interpretations. I guess I don’t have a point other than that it’s interesting how our own sense of identities can influence how we read a story.

  3. I like Scott’s point about Dick essentially having the same conversation a billion times. That damn Batfamily is so big, and Higgins seems to want to have connected with all of them. Like it’s a little too inside to be effective. Could Dick have a meaningful conversation with Babs about DotF? Sure. Is it necessary after talking to Alfred and Gordon? NOPE!

    • I was looking over the issue as I was writing it up, assuming we could have lost one of those scenes, but they actually all serve an additional purpose, important to Dick’s overall arc. We can argue about their efficacy here, but I actually think this issue balances the serial elements rather well. That is, I can’t actually see losing one of these scenes without losing some important information. To me, the most logical way to make more space for the Dick/Damian scene would be to truncate that mid-issue fight scene. It takes up 5 pages (with two full-pagers) when three (or fewer) would really do. Actually, even ignoring that that space could be better used elsewhere, I think the full page spreads in that fight scene really screw up the pacing.

      Unfortunately, that’s not my only issue with Ryp’s artwork. I really like the details he adds to costumes and backgrounds, but he draws faces with oddly thick lips. It’s hard to sell the drama when everybody looks like they’ve got novelty wax lips on.

  4. Pingback: Nightwing 18 | Retcon Punch

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